Ever since the invention of the internet, ransomware attacks have posed a significant threat to organisations and individuals all around the world. In 2021, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Centre (IC3) received over 3,700 complaints from ransomware attack victims. Whereas in 2020, this number was 2,474 – 49% less. Ransomware tactics and technologies are evolving rapidly, leaving a lot of organisations more vulnerable than ever before. As a result of this, governments all around the world are considering ransomware to be one of the biggest cyber threats affecting businesses in their countries.
The last 2 years have seen ransomware attacks continue to increase. This is partly because many organisations have adopted remote and hybrid working practices in a rush. This has led them to make changes without ensuring adequate cybersecurity and risk management procedures in place, leaving end users exposed to ransomware and other cyber threats in the process.
This blog post explains what ransomware is, how ransomware attacks work, and 4 things you can do to prevent yourself from being affected by this growing cyber threat.
What is Ransomware?
Before we discuss the 4 things that you and your organisation can do to stay safe from ransomware, let’s talk about what ransomware is.
Ransomware is one of the most harmful forms of malware that exists today. Hackers use ransomware using encryption to hold their data in exchange for a ransom. They refuse to give back access to files until the ransom is paid. Once the files are completely encrypted and inaccessible to them, the hacker will demand a ransom to restore the victim’s data. The cost of the ransom can vary from a few hundred pounds to millions of pounds, but it usually depends on the victim’s profile. Ransomware attacks are targeted at both organisations and individuals.
In most cases, if the victim doesn’t pay the ransom within a certain timeframe, the encrypted data will remain inaccessible and could eventually be deleted by the hacker. However, when larger organisations fail to pay the ransom, there’s a high probability that their data could be leaked or sold on the dark web.
How do Ransomware attacks work?
By now you probably already know that ransomware attacks work by getting access to your computer or mobile device and then encrypting and locking the data stored on it.
But how exactly does this happen?
It commonly happens when victims mistakenly download malware by opening malicious email attachments and or downloading files from unverified sources. The hacker will often pose as a trusted source, making ransomware attacks difficult to spot at the starting point.
This malware could be disguised as something useful like a ‘Free music player app’ or a ‘VPN app’ but instead is concealed ransomware.
Once the ransomware is downloaded onto your device, it restricts you from accessing your data until you comply with the hacker’s demands. Usually, this will involve paying a ransom which is often a large sum of money.
Downloading ransomware can cause a lot of chaos for your organisation. This is because there’s no guarantee you’ll regain complete access to your data and re-establish your data security even if you do comply with the hackers demands and pay the ransom.
All these factors make ransomware attacks extremely tricky to avoid and even harder to overcome once the ransomware has been downloaded. However, there are a few things that you can do to mitigate the risk of becoming a victim of a ransomware attack.
4 Simple ways to protect yourself from ransomware attacks
Here are 4 simple steps that your business should follow to avoid being hit by ransomware attacks.
1. Ensure that your software is regularly updated
The simplest tip out of this list is something that takes little time to do, but is often overlooked – keeping software updated.
If you want to mitigate the risk ransomware attacks, then you need to update your software regularly. Although it may seem small, software updates are crucial because they can provide you with essential software revisions and patches for evolving cyber threats. These revisions could patch security gaps that have been identified by developers or remove bugs identified by users. Either way, keeping your software up to date can help you eliminate the vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit to access your data.
This doesn’t have to be a manual task either. You can automate it all by enabling automatic system updates on all your devices.
2. Conduct a cyber security assessment
Ransomware is on the rise. The average ransomware payment increased by 144% in 2021 and is expected to increase even further by the end of 2022. Ransomware attacks have become so detrimental to businesses, they are making news headlines with hackers sometimes demanding millions in ransom payments before giving businesses back their data.
This trend doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon. As businesses are more reliant on technology than ever before, the threat landscape has expanded. Not to mention that hackers are constantly developing more advanced avenues to exploit business IT environments and extort them.
So, what does all this mean for your businesses?
If your business doesn’t identify its security gaps and fix them before hackers find them, you run the risk of falling victim to a cyberattack – ransomware or otherwise.
Right now, you’re probably wondering “How do I identify the security gaps in my business?” and “How do I fix them?”
The answer is to conduct a cyber security assessment. A cyber security assessment is a vital part of any risk management and data protection strategy. It’s there to provide your business with clarity regarding your current security position. The awareness provided by the assessment will enable you to identify and mitigate your cyber security risks before a hacker can take advantage.
Every aspect of your IT Infrastructure has the potential to be a security risk, so it’s better to have a holistic approach when it comes to assessing your infrastructure. You should have every single aspect of your IT environment monitored regularly, especially if you have a remote or hybrid workforce.
However, before you perform a cybersecurity assessment, bear in mind that identifying all the security gaps within your IT environments can be a complex task. So, ensure that your cybersecurity assessment is carried out by cybersecurity professionals who can understand your IT environment and the latest tactics used by hackers. We have a security practice run by an expert team of cybersecurity specialists and we offer a range of cybersecurity assessments to help you improve your security posture.
3. Subscribe to a Managed Firewall Service
A firewall can be an extremely effective tool for protecting your organisation from ransomware attacks.
Firewalls are designed to act as the first layer of defence in your cyber security strategy. They typically act as a buffer that sits in between your network and the cloud, monitoring the exchange of data occurring both in and out of the network. This helps to protect the network and the devices connected to it from cyber threats and potential security breaches. Firewalls prevent malicious software, ransomware and hackers from gaining access to your network and data. If a foreign device tries to access your network, your firewall will intercept it and determine whether to grant it to access your network.
Having a firewall is essential, especially if your organisation has a substantial amount of remote or hybrid working employees, which causes additional security risks.
Although firewalls have been around since the 1980’s, there are still many businesses that don’t have them in place. There are many reasons for this, from cost concerns to lack of resource.
Another issue is that implementing, maintaining, and managing a firewall can be quite a challenging and time-consuming task.
If your business doesn’t have a firewall in place for whatever reason, don’t worry. You could easily get a firewall installed, managed, and updated for you by a cybersecurity-focused Managed Service Provider like us.
4. Don’t use public Wi-Fi without a VPN
Using public Wi-Fi is a great convenience for mobile workers. However, it is also very risky. Many are unaware that using public Wi-Fi networks can leave your devices exposed to ransomware attacks and other types of dangerous malware.
This is because the majority of public Wi-Fi networks require no authentication to establish a network connection. They are also often unencrypted and unsecured. Connecting to these networks will leave you susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks, which is when a hacker exploits security flaws in the network to intercept and access your sensitive data.
So, if you plan on using public Wi-Fi, you’re best to use a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs keep you safe by creating a “secure tunnel” which ensures that all data sent over the Wi-Fi connection is encrypted, leaving no room for hackers to attack you.
Avoid ransomware by keeping your IT environment secure
The 848 Group is an experienced IT partner and Managed Service Provider (MSP) serving businesses across the UK. We are Cyber Essentials Certified and hold 5 Microsoft Advanced Specialisations including information protection and governance, identity and access management and more.
We have a dedicated security practice, consisting of qualified cybersecurity experts who can plan, build, and implement cybersecurity processes that keep your business safe from ransomware attacks and other cyber threats. If you would like some more guidance on how to keep your business’s IT environment secure, then contact us today.
Thulani is a digital executive and technical writer. He researches new and emerging IT solutions and constructs relevant content that is both informative and easy to digest. Thulani writes articles that provides clear insights for business users.